How long have you been in the profession ?
Currently manager of Réaux, a company located in Lessay (50), I have been in this profession for 45 years and my father, Jacques, began in 1938. An engineering graduate of the Institut Agricole of Beauvais, he originally planned a career in agriculture but an opportunity led him to the dairy industry, via the dairy of Saint-Hilaire de Briouze (61), founded in 1912, which he bought in 1938. However, I was forced to sell the dairy to the Fléchard group in 2005, after being the managing director and technical director since 1971. After my military service in Algeria (EOR), I started by managing a small dairy (Mantilly - 61) belonging to the family group, which specialized in making traditional Camembert cheese (7,000 rounds/day), from 1963 to 1971. My father had worked for a long time with Mr Théodore Réaux, formerly on the board of the Saint-Hilaire de Briouze dairy and owner of the Réaux dairy, in Lessay (50). The Réaux and Gillot families have always had close ties. The Réaux dairy, in which I am the majority shareholder, had been managed by my father, who was also a shareholder. In 1983-84, the company was doing badly and my father put me in charge of its recovery. I took over the technical management and hired Mr Marc Brunet, a highly experienced professional, who still works with me. We made the business profitable again and I bought it from the Réaux family in 1987.
What do you produce ?
In the beginning, we used to sell 8,000 tons of potatoes. Then we set up a packaging and washing line to meet the needs of our customers, who are wholesalers, supermarkets and foreign buyers. We later added a second packaging and washing line to meet the increased demand for export, as well as from supermarkets, ten wholesalers from Rungis and others public interest markets (MIN) in France (Lomme, Lyon, Rouen, etc.) by reason of one wholesaler per MIN. We are present in several EU countries like Spain, Italy, Greece and Great Britain. I developed the Spanish market using a simple formula: one city, one wholesaler. With ten customers at Rungis, including one customer per pavilion, we avoid competition between customers. We also supply the food processing industry (3% to 4%).
What varieties do you sell?
Our specialty is traditional AOC Camembert made from raw cow’s milk from the Normande cattle breed, which is moulded by ladle. The AOC Camembert from Normandy will always be a symbol of French gastronomy and I see myself as a defender of this cheese made with a total respect for tradition and quality. We aim for top quality rather than volume, the cornerstone of our reputation. Furthermore, the company would not be where it is today without a dynamic, highly professional team.We make 11,000 tons/year of AOC Camembert from Normandy, which means collecting 20 million litres of milk from 65 producers we have selected for the quality of their milk. They adhere to our particularly draconian specifications and make major efforts in terms of quality.
We produce a traditional Camembert, but in a modern way. So our milk collection lorries have a double compartment, which means we sort the milk during the collection process every day. The production is split into two batches every day to limit the risks and improve traceability. We work on a traditional product with modern technologies (computers) in order to preserve impeccable quality, hygiene and traceability.
We ripen Camembert as well as making it. We also offer a personalized service to customers who want a specific ripening or presentation. Furthermore, we produce 450 tons/year of traditional churn butter, cream and fromage frais.
Do you have a strategy for development ?
Our development strategy is simple; it’s called top-of-the-line. Our duty is to closely adhere to the demand of our clientele, which in turn reflects consumer demand, namely for a product of constant quality. We have to stay on course without ever sacrificing quality. This quality can be measured in the number of gold medals obtained over several years, at the Concours Général Agricole of the Salon de l’Agriculture, for our Camembert called “Gaslonde”, also praised by the Gault & Millau guide and the magazine Que Choisir.
Camembert is one of the most famous cheeses in the world and there are still great opportunities for real quality products. In fact, we are exporting more to Japan, Canada and Europe. However, you have to stay in your market, respecting your market’s dimensions. That is why we have no problem and are even recording a growth in our business, whereas overall consumption of cheese is down.
What do you think of Rungis Market ?
For our SME, Rungis Market is essential in terms of transport costs and the “exposure” it gives our products. We work with about ten outlets who distribute our products to their clientele, which saves us work. This represents 40% of our total volumes. Furthermore, these people are professionals who know exactly how to promote our products. This explains why we have been at Rungis since 1969.
Born in Bellou-en-Houlme (61), Bertrand Gillot (age 68) is a graduate of ENIL (Ecole Nationale des Industries Laitières) in Surgères (17). He is one of the last producers of AOC Camembert from Normandy, following the tradition and quality that made his reputation. In line with the principles and values set by his father (a key figure in the profession, president of the Syndicat du Camembert for 35 years, notably when it obtained the AOC in 1983 and creator of the inter-trade centre, one of the largest in France), Bertrand Gillot has managed to adapt this traditional product to the demands of modern, efficient production.